Kanu and Uwaruzuike
The war of words between the leaders of the two frontline Pro-Biafra secessionist groups, Nnamdi Kanu and Ralph Uwazuruike was last week rekindled. The two resumed hostility when Kanu, leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) blasted Uwazuruike, his counterpart of the Movement for the Actualisation of Sovereign State of Biafra for taking the issue of Biafra to the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO) in The Hague, Netherlands.
Kanu had described the move as belittling being that his group had already taken Biafra’s matter to the United Nations (UN) which according to him, was a far more recognized body. Also, Kanu accused Uwazuruike of paying two thousand dollars to get the attention of UNPO towards the plight of Igbos in Nigeria.
Uwazuruike, however, responded by calling Kanu a coward who had run away from the forefront of the struggle to a comfortable base, and so, not qualified enough to speak on matters concerning Biafra agitations.
It is common knowledge that both respected leaders in the southeast have a history of bad blood between them dating as far back as the early 2000s after Kanu exited MASSOB and started his IPOB movement, which has since become the more popular pro-Biafra movement.
It was told that Kanu began working with MASSOB, functioning as the Director of Radio Biafra which was established in 1999 from an apartment in London, England. Since his exit and formation of IPOB, there has been no love lost between the two, as they strongly contend for the recognition of their people.
Uwazuruike's liberalism, Kanu's Radicalism
In the last few years, the agitation for the realization of a Biafra republic has never been any louder than it was when Nigerian forces led by the then Head of State, Gen. Yakubu Gowon defeated the Biafran forces led by Col. Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, a former military governor of Nigeria's eastern region in 1970, putting an end to the three-year civil war.
Today, there’s a resurgence of a Biafra agitation spearheaded by Uwazuruike and Kanu, amongst others. Even though they share a common goal, Uwazuruike and Kanu seem to appear as two different sides of a coin. One adopts the liberal method with its philosophy hinged on the principle of non-violent conflict as propagated by Mahatma Gandhi, while the other adopts a radical approach, subscribing to violent conflicts and consistently issuing threats of war.
Kanu, for one, seems to enjoy berating the tactics of Uwazuruike. He thinks Uwazuruike is too soft and his tactics far too weak to help fast track the achievement of Biafra. Perhaps this was why he, along with a splinter group of MASSOB broke-away to form the now infamous IPOB.
Uwazuruike, on the other hand, thinks Kanu is a menace who puts the movement in a bad light, generating unwarranted controversy which has now earned Kanu’s group a proscription by the federal government in 2018. No wonder, after Kanu's arrest by the DSS in 2015, MASSOB wasted no time in denying him, describing him as a rebel who had long been expelled by MASSOB for inciting violence among members.
Kanu's method invokes propaganda and sometimes fake news, just to berate the Nigerian government. Not only is he divisive and destructive in his narratives, but he also does not hesitate to express his pathological hatred for Nigeria using broadcast from his Radio Biafra and social media to spread falsehood and disinformation. He, however, enjoys the support of young people who he has brainwashed into believing that Nigeria has neglected the Southeast region and that Biafra was the only option and was to be achieved by any means necessary.
The IPOB protagonist’s popularity can be traced back to a video footage where he was seen seeking arms at the World Igbo Congress in the United States. His unlawful Lagos arrest in 2015 by the Department of State Services (DSSS) made him even more popular. Kanu seems to take bragging-rights from having spent two years in DSS detention and for that, assumes he has sacrificed enough to be perceived as the messiah that has been chosen to lead the Biafran cause.
The IPOB leader seems to forget that before he saw the four walls of a prison, that Uwazuruike has been arrested on several occasions, the longest spell happening after a crackdown on ethnic and regional leaders by former President Olusegun Obasanjo in November 2005. He ended up spending two years in an underground SSS facility in Abuja was finally granted bail in November 2007.
The illussion of Igbo secessionism
Many Igbos think their problems would immediately be over as soon as they secede and begin a republic of their own. Well, so was the thought of many countries at the attainment of independence, only to find out there were so many more complexities that needed to be addressed.
Make no mistake to think that the Igbos are simply just one people, one language, one culture and one tradition. Several complexities show the differences between each sub-groups. It is only when they do achieve political independence that they will realise how different they are. That’s when the Anioma man will choose a different identity from the Ikwerre man. The Umuoji people will like to produce the President more often than they get the chance to. The Abiriba man will favour his kinsman over the Ohuhu man, and so the cycle begins again.
These are a few of the problems that nation-states have always had to deal with. For instance, as small as a state like Akwa Ibom is, there is often the dissatisfaction by other groups who feel the Ibibios have politically dominated for too many years. I’m sure this same dissatisfaction and grievances you will find in almost all of the states in Nigeria, talk less of a much bigger region like the Southeast with several subgroups.
Political independence for the Southeast doesn’t seem like it may come anytime soon. Besides the agitations of the pro-Biafra groups, no responsible political or socio-economic heavyweight has publicly approved of the secession gospel. It is obvious that not all Igbos want secession. A good number of them living in other parts of Nigeria are dismissive of the movement and would rather negotiate a Nigeria that is fair, equitable and just. A Nigeria that will address the grievances that led to the agitations in the first place.
Can Kanu and Uwazuruike deliver Biafra in discord?
The tension between Kanu and Uwazuruike does their cause no good and even heightens peoples’ cynicism in the sincerity of their intent. The thought here is, if they cannot walk together when the achievement of the cause is not clearly in sight, how will they function when independence is achieved?
If and when Biafra is achieved, there’s no doubt that these two individuals will play major roles in the scheme of things. But if they proceed with this sort of animosity and ill feelings towards each other, they will, no doubt, pose a new problem for the new republic. What are the guarantees that they (Biafrans) will not be again faced with the leadership problem that has put Nigerian in the mess that it has been since independence?
A saying goes, “When two elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers." At this point, it will be, not only wise, but also ideal for both men to put aside their differences and work for the common good of their cause.
I’m not a Biafran nor from the Southeast, but I would not like to see my Igbo friends deep dive into more troubling waters after they secede from Nigeria. With the bickering and lack of a formidable leadership, the inevitable could be the case. It would be very tragic to jump into fire from a frying pan if power falls into the hands of another set of power intoxicated individuals.
Let me state clearly that I’m in total support of the self-determination of a people if they feel they are not getting a fair deal in a union. It is a cardinal principle in international law and is enshrined in the African Union (AU) and United Nations charter, so long as your agitation is done peacefully and under the rule of law and international best practices with total respect for human rights.
Victor Enengedi is a public affairs analyst and can be reached via [email protected]